UPDATE: THE SCIENCE OF WALKING ON COALS
(SEE ORIGINAL STORY AT BOTTOM OF POST)
Burning Question: Why Do People Walk Across Hot Coals?
By Piper Weiss
July 23, 2012
In 1986, motivational speaker Tony Robbins explained his fire walking ritual to a captivated audience: "People have gotten first, second and third degree burns . . . Some have had skin grafts and three people have died...None of them attended my seminar."
As of Thursday, that's no longer true. During a four-day seminar in San Jose, California entitled "Unleash the Power Within," 21 participants in Robbins' famed "fire walk experience" suffered injuries, including second and third degree burns.
...But physicist Bernard Leikind, who tried Robbins' fire walk years ago, has a different theory of why walking across burning coals is often less dangerous than it seems.
..."You're walking on things with poor thermal conductivity and poor heat capacity," he says in a Scientific American video. "Even though the coals are at a high temperature, they don't have as much energy as you might think and aren't good at putting it into your foot."
According to Leikand, you don't need confidence or a heightened mental acuity to fire walk successfully, you just need science and a little bit of luck. "Throughout the course of the walk, energy moves from embers to feet, then the walkers' blood carries some away," Leikand tells Yahoo! Shine. "If the energy carried away doesn't equal the energy moving in, then the tissue's temperature will increase... The degree of a burn arises from a combination of temperature and time...If they make it to the end before any damage occurs, the fire walk was successful."
As to why so many weren't successful, Leiklind speculates: "Some people may have walked slowly. Some people may have stepped out of the path of earlier walkers into deeper, hotter coals. Some people may have jammed embers between their toes. The organizers may have built their ember beds differently than they had before, perhaps on a different surface. Gusts of wind might have increased the rate of combustion. It's really hard to say." He does believe other participants who suffered less severe burns may not have even reported injuries. "They just would have headed for home and visited their physicians or the emergency room later."...
Walking on hot coals is not something I can imagine myself doing, but I think I understand how people do it. (Oprah succeeded!) The feat is accomplished, I believe, through concentration, confidence and relaxation. I suspect that those who succeed are able to maintain a steady transfer of weight, keeping a fast, even rhythm and steady pressure of their feet on the coals. If you don't believe it will work, it won't. Maybe it's also a bit like the old English legal test for truth in which a hot coal was placed on the tongue of an accused person to find out if he was innocent or guilty. Theoretically, an innocent person would be relaxed (hmmmm--not necessarily!) and would have a normal, wet tongue, but a stressed, guilty person would have a dry tongue. The innocent would not be burned.
Twenty-one people in California tried walking on coals, and wound up the unhappy victims of old-fashioned peer pressure.
Did twenty-one people suddenly forget all they had learned from Tony Robbins about mind-over-matter control of their bodies? Yes, I think they lost faith (and concentration!) when they heard other people screaming.
So why didn't they back off and say, "I think I'll pass this time. Maybe another time."
That's where the peer pressure came in. It seems that herd instinct took over when mind control was lost.
People stayed in line, kept walking, and ended up miserable. Let's not laugh at them. Normal people do exactly this every day. (We suffer economically, but we don't even institute banking regulations, much less put some bankers in jail. It's business as usual.)
And why didn't somebody step in and stop the catastrophe at the Tony Robbins seminar? Because our normal, everyday culture tells us not to question authority, to keep a low profile, to keep quiet. Lately we've had a lot of books calling this "girl culture", but boys are taught the same thing, just not to the same degree.
Whistle-blowers are too often ignored, and too often punished. If one of the supervisors had stopped the event, would he or she have been fired? If one of the participants had tried to stop it, would he have been thrown out?
Tony Robbins event ends in 'wails of pain' as attendees walk on hot coals
Over 20 people treated for burns after multi-day motivational event encourages attendees to take a leap of faith on coals
Matt Williams in New York
21 July 2012
Burnt soles rather than cleansed souls awaited attendees at motivational speaker Tony Robbins's latest life coaching seminar, with 21 people needing treatment after a painful walk across coals.
During a four-day gathering in California entitled Unleash the Power Within, the famed lifestyle guru encouraged participants to take a leap of faith and test their luck on the red-hot surface.
Emergency services were called to deal with the fall-out, as many in the group suffered second- and third-degree burns. Three needed hospital treatment, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
"I heard wails of pain, screams of agony" one witness told the newspaper.
"First one person, then a couple minutes later another one, and there was just a line of people walking on that fire. It was just bizarre, man," Jonathan Correll, 25, said.
The injured fire walkers were among thousands who attended the Robbins event. As part of the multi-day seminar, a crowd were led to a park where 12 lanes of hot coals had been laid out.
A brochure for the Unleash the Power Within event suggests that once you overcome the fear of walking on coals of between "1,200 and 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit" you can "conquer the other fires of your life with ease".
A spokesman for the San Jose fire department told the San Jose Mercury News that it does not recommend that people undertake the endeavour.
Robbins has used fire-walking throughout his career as a motivational speaker and life coach.
In a statement, the Robbins Research International told the newspaper: "We have been safely providing this experience for more than three decades, and always under the supervision of medical personnel … We continue to work with local fire and emergency personnel to ensure this event is always done in the safest way possible."